The 'engine room' of dynamic Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 October, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 October, 1998, 12:00am

For 50 years, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department has enhanced and safeguarded the lives and working environment of Hong Kong people.

The department plays a crucial role in ensuring the cogs keep turning in one of the world's busiest cities.

Its brief has expanded from simple electrical and transport activities in its early days to such diverse responsibilities as the design of electronic road and traffic monitoring systems, the maintenance of sophisticated stage lighting systems in Hong Kong's cultural and town centres, setting up the establishment of Hong Kong's Energy Efficiency Office in 1994 and . . . maintaining the divers' decompression chamber facilities on Stonecutters Island.

EMSD staff even designed and installed mini air pumps and flag poles at the Convention Centre to ensure that the flags at last year's handover ceremony would fly properly.

The Electrical and Mechanical Office was set up in 1948 when the former Electrical, Mechanical and Transport Offices was merged under a chief electrical and mechanical engineer.

With the legacies of World War II still to be overcome, Hong Kong faced shortages of manpower, equipment and spare parts.

Early work included reinstallation of lights, fans and electrical points at government buildings, the installation of electrical systems at Kai Tak Airport, the restoration of typhoon lights, maintenance of sea walls, ferry piers and road signs.

Even then, 50 years ago, the office's annual report stated that maintenance on 17 lifts was successfully carried out. All government lifts were working by January 1947, with the exception of a lift in the Supreme Court, for which parts were unavailable.

In 1949, the office was handed responsibility for the maintenance of air-condition ing systems and refrigeration.

The 1950s saw an influx of mainland refugees, creating enormous pressure on housing, education and the city's rudimentary infrastructure.

In turn, the 1960s were a time of turbulence in Hong Kong, culminating in the social unrest of 1967.

During this 20-year period, E & M continued to rapidly expand and diversify. In 1954, construction began on the new mechanical workshop building at Caroline Hill, a site which still houses EMSD's head office.

In 1962, with the opening of the City Hall, E & M's responsibilities were again expanded as it began its involvement with stage lighting and performance systems. In 1966, E & M moved into its completed Caroline Hill headquarters.

In 1968, the first semi-electronic traffic lights were introduced, gradually replacing the delightful traffic pagodas - a combination of Oriental design and Western practicality - from which traffic was manually directed by the police.

In 1976, the Electricity Supply, Peak Tramway and Aerial Ropeway (Safety) ordinances were established and E & M was charged with overseeing them.

The same year, the new General Post Office was completed, with E & M handling the maintenance of all postal- related electrical and mechanical equipment.

E & M took over responsibility for all government electronic equipment and systems in 1980, including, for the first time, work in the field of medical electronics.

The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, as it is called today, came into being in 1982 following the restructuring of the Public Works Department.

In 1984, EMSD was amalgamated with the Building Services branch.

The merger brought responsibility for all electrical, mechanical and building service installations in government buildings together under one department.

Public Sector Reform was initiated in 1989, which was to eventually lead to the establishment of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Trading Fund seven years later.

With the establishment of the Trading Fund, the department evolved into a self-supporting entity, providing better services to other government departments.

The department continues to break new ground.

This year, it won several contracts through competitive tendering. Some of the largest and most sophisticated systems at Chek Lap Kok airport are maintained by EMSD.